- Violin Concerto
- New England Triptych, for orchestra
- Variations on "America" for orchestra (or band)
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One of the finest and most underrated American composers of the 20th century, William Schuman (1910-1992) also had important careers as an educator and administrator, serving as president of both the Juilliard School and of Lincoln Center. His music embraces populist and more abstractly modernist styles alike, and this disc displays both sides of his creative personality. Schuman's best-known piece is probably the New England Triptych, a jaunty, exhilarating orchestral arrangement of hymn tunes by America's first major composer, William Billings. His orchestration of Charles Ives's witty Variations on America, originally for organ, also shows the composer's keen awareness of his forebears. But the main dish here is Schuman's great and gripping Violin Concerto (premiered by Isaac Stern in 1950), which stands up well in comparison to the 20th century's other masterpieces in the form. While it resists clichéd Americanisms, it still sounds like something only an American could have written. Rhythmically driving, sometimes harmonically thorny, but often soaringly lyrical, the concerto is a superb showpiece for violinist and orchestra alike. The young Philip Quint, clearly an artist on the rise, excels in the spotlight here with an athletic performance and a pure, steely tone. And as so often in Naxos' American Classics series, a European orchestra -- the Bournemouth Symphony, directed by José Serebrier -- shows an impeccable sense of American idioms. Along with Leonard Bernstein's irreplaceable recording of the composer's Third, Fifth, and Eighth Symphonies, this is an essential Schuman release.